Most of us live in multiple worlds simultaneously, the world of our professional life and our personal life probably the most obvious example. Much of the time this compartmentalizing helps us maintain balance, but sometimes it also creates a person with multiple souls, none of which is entirely fulfilled. Insofar as we manage the balance, there may be a sense that life is good, but there is another way of looking, which is to focus on individual unity across the boundary lines. Sometimes, for example, if I am using some type of temperament inventory with clients, I am asked how best to answer the questions. “Should I answer these about the person I am at work, or answer them about the person at home?” It is interesting, isn’t it, that our work and home personalities might vary so much.
What is of special interest to me is the one who is the same in both environments, the one who shows up in the transit between the worlds. This is the person who has left the office or left the plant but isn’t home yet. It’s the person who has left home but not yet arrived. Who is this person?
Some years ago, I traveled a great deal for my work. I traveled so much to Madison, Wisconsin where I had a number of clients — and ultimately friends — that I felt I was living two lives. The only place that really seemed like my own real space was on an aircraft. There I could think just for me; I didn’t have to be anywhere else; I was in the middle passage. Once I realized this I stopped working on planes, and I also stopped doing chores such as paying my bills. I began to more thoroughly enjoy the transition, an anonymous person. I enjoyed the pleasure of being a ticket.
Sometimes, metaphorically, I think we get on planes and yet we don’t know where we are going. The transition, the ticket is the thing — maybe the question we are trying to answer. I met a woman not too long enough who found at a certain point she just wanted out of her high-level assistant to the president role for something different. So she sold her house and most of her possessions and bought a one way ticket from Minnesota to Chile. She had never been there, had no contacts, and didn’t even know Spanish. She just went. A few years later, she found herself buying another ticket, this time to Bolivia, and so on…These are to me cross-over points, where the soul is free precisely because it is in transition. There is anxiety but also excitement. There is a sense of self like no other, and simultaneously a question of personal identity. Who is the person flying? Sometimes we proudly and publicly cross to the other side of something in full daylight; sometimes we sneak across the boundaries in the dark. It’s as if we can’t live with the stone of stability alone. We must also have water, the symbol of transition and of transcience, cutting through our lives and our work, through the stone of adopted identity to find something even more fundamental below.
Without such a sense of the water that flows, a work-life balance doesn’t seem like it makes much sense to me. It can’t be just a balance; it always includes a transition that is itself a world of its own. I sense this place is sometimes the most vital part of a person, a place where an individual is open, reflective, hungry for the downhill run, the thrust over the falls. It’s no surprise that sometimes strangers on planes have very personal conversations, or suddenly find themselves in a group of people (as I have a time or two) who can’t stop laughing.
Most of my contribution in the world is actually when those I help are in transition between their worlds: work — home, professional — personal, past — future, this career — that career, manager — leader. Sometimes, for example, when asked to help a supervisor or manager who is in trouble, I may ask why that individual has set up the situation to create such a powerful personal and professional challenge at that moment. This is often helpful because it changes the context of the conversation from “I am in trouble,” to “Hmmm, I seem to have brought circumstances on myself in order to learn something.” So then the conversation can change to be about deeper life-learning, not simply getting out of an embarrassing or otherwise difficult situation. The whole situation could move in moment from intellectual problem-solving and blame to a deeper journey about meaning and presence, qualities held at those precious cross-over points called insights. But who is the person who has these insights that bridge the worlds?
I continue to find it fascinating that about one third of the hits to this weblog come from searches for “leadership poems” or very similar words. They come from people all over the world. Yet I don’t really know what any given person is looking for. Is it inspiration from a famous leader? Or is it to wake up some part of that person’s own leadership self? A google search, simple as it is, could point to an inner cross-over point, too. Simply putting the search out there to the cyber universe — and real universe, too: “leadership poems,” “poems about leaders,” “leadership poem,” “poem abut leadership,” etc., etc. apparently can make a difference. I’d like to think these words are an invitation to touch some destination not yet defined, meant especially to find the water that wears down the stone and, like all experience of the heart, connects everything as it splits the stone gradually in two.
Part of me is grinning on the inside, Dan. I’m self-employed, but work out of an external office a couple of days a week. I’m here in this office, knowing I should be doing my other work, and I’m reading your beautiful post instead. I’m very conscious lately of wanting to bring more of inner self to to all of my life, including my working life. The “compartment” division between work and personal can feel stifling.
There is value in understanding that there is also a place between these worlds wherer we reside. Calling it a “cross over point” gives it more significance than labelling it a “transition.” It will be enlightening for me to explore who I am being in this “cross over” place.
“The ‘compartment’ division between work and personal can feel stifling.”
Thank you for stopping by, Deb. I agree with your line about compartmentalization — it’s true for me, too — and it kind of begs the question about what it means to manage a balance rather than “live from one soul.”
In a related way, someone once told me that physiologically from about 5 PM to 7 PM is a typical cross-over time. That’s when we experience feelings we haven’t allowed earlier in the day and experience our exhaustion before moving to a different mode in the later evening. It’s the time we usually have a drink and chill out. How fascinating that our worlds are this divided. Who is this person who needs the drink? What does it do?
Have the strength
to be a real
Man or woman
Who always keeps
Even an angel needs rest.
Integrity creates a body so vast
A thousand winged ones will
“May I lay my cheek
Thanks for sharing this beautiful and apropos poem, Mike. It’s touching, isn’t it, that a poet from the 14th century speaks so eloquently to the trouble being one person (one meaning for the word, “integrity”). Indeed, such action must attract the angels.…